Study Guide

The Three Musketeers

By Alexandre Dumas

The Three Musketeers Introduction

Trivia: why is the candy bar called "3 Musketeers" called "3 Musketeers"?

Does eating it involve historical swashbuckling? Or a devious lady with a fleur de lis tattoo? Or a lovesick Duke of Buckingham? Does it have anything to do with the novel The Three Musketeers?

Answer: not really. The delicious nougat-y treat that filled your plastic Jack O' Lantern buckets on Halloween throughout your childhood has as much to do with the content of Alexandre Dumas' novel as, for example, a pint of Cherry Garcia has to do with The Grateful Dead. (Not much.)

But originally the candy bar was made to be split three ways—one piece for you, and one piece for two of your best buddies. And the fact that the title of a French novel was so universally acknowledged to be synonymous with friendship that it inspired the name of an American candy bar... well, that speaks volumes.

Alexandre Dumas originally published The Three Musketeers in serials, appearing one chapter at a time in the Parisian newspaper Le Siècle from March 14, 1844 to July 1, 1844. The serial form was a popular way for newspaper publishers to boost readership: think of it as today’s weekly TV shows, which keep the audience in suspense from one episode to the next. The serial nature of the novel also explains why most chapters end with a cliffhanger of some sort. By today's standards, The Three Musketeers a "real page-turner," but, back in Dumas’s day, this suspenseful style simply ensured that customers would continue buying newspapers.

Dumas’s story of four young heroes battling for glory and women was even more popular when it was written than it is today. It is safe to say that this book has reached canonical status: as well as lending its name to a chocolate bar, it has been continuously in print ever since its release, cementing its reputation as a well-loved adventure novel.

Part of what made Dumas’s novel so crazy-popular was his use of historical events and characters. Queen Anne of Austria was real, as was her husband (Louis XIII), Cardinal Richelieu, and others. Also, a man named John Felton really did assassinate the Duke of Buckingham

But what was especially awesome about The Three Musketeers is contained right there in the title: it's the 19th Century version of a buddy movie. These musketeers basically romp around like so many Thelma and Louises or Woody and Buzz Lightyears... except, of course, that their mustaches are way waxier and their swordplay is Inigo Montoya-caliber.

What is The Three Musketeers About and Why Should I Care?

Do you like summer blockbusters? No—wait. Don't answer that. There's no reason to answer that. Because everyone with half a brain loves summer blockbusters. The beauty of summer blockbusters is that you can have a distracting sunburn, a new summer crush, and be running on four hours of sleep because you were dancing all night... and still totally worship a good summer blockbuster.

The action. The fight scenes. The camaraderie. The villains. The improbable plot twists and the conspiracies; the love interests and the last-minute escapes. These are all things that make summer blockbusters more addictive than movie theater popcorn.

It makes you feel really awful for people who lives in the dark ages before the silver screen.

But don't feel too bad, because although our ancestors didn't have Mad Max: Fury Road, they did have Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. This novel isn't just the novel equivalent of a summer blockbuster... it's a novel that has spawned about a bajillion summer blockbusters.

Here's a staggering statistic: there have been thirty-four movie adaptations of The Three Musketeers. Thirty-four. Let's put that another way: movies have been around for about 110 years, so there has been a film adaptation of The Three Musketeers made, on average, every 3.5 years.

(And we're not including TV movies, spin-offs, or movies that are adapted from the other novels Dumas wrote that featured the characters of the musketeers.)

But why does The Three Musketeers, a moldy old book about people fighting with swords, get the cinematic treatment more as often as most people get a new cell phone? Because it. is. made. for. it.

In fact, the movie adaptations tend to fall super-short of the brilliance of this popcorn-ready novel. Film versions don't get to really explore the plot twists, the nuances that make these characters despicable and seductive at the same time, and all the insane-o action sequences.

But they do get the gist of The Three Musketeers:

  1. Save the good people.
    From the very first pages of The Three Musketeers, D’Artagnan is on one impossible quest after another to be the savior of everyone and their mom: France, King Louis XIII, Queen Anne, the Duke of Buckingham, his friends, their servants, Constance Bonacieux.
  2. Get rid of the bad guys.
    Along the way D’Artagnan must defeat the evil Cardinal Richelieu, the even more evil Milady, and battle a seemingly infinite number of skilled adversaries. Countless duels, battles, and military onslaughts abound.
  3. Get help from your group of buddies.
    Who could forget that D’Artagnan gets by with a little help from his friends? Without Porthos, Athos, and Aramis, our hero would have gotten absolutely nowhere. Oh, and he helps them every now and then too.
  4. Get the girl.
    Well, this one doesn’t exactly work out... but not for lack of trying.
  5. A bunch of other stuff added just to spice things up.
    Twists and turns in the plot and a constant switch from one village/city/region/country to another ensure that this epic tale grips you from beginning to end.

Who in their right mind doesn't look at that plot breakdown and think a) Whoa. That's awesome, and b) That should be made into another movie right now?

Maybe—if you’re not into adventure, love, sex, serious dueling, men in funny costumes and hats who carry weapons, scenarios that would give any conspiracy theorist a field day, and if you lack a pulse—this might not be the book for you.

But if you want to recreate the dazzling entertainment of a movie theater in mid-July in the privacy of your own mind, you really cannot do better than The Three Musketeers.

The Three Musketeers Resources

Movie or TV Productions

Les trois mousquetaires
Movie created in 1932. Silent film!

The Three Musketeers
Movie created in 1939.

The Three Musketeers
Movie created in 1948. Starring Gene Kelly and Angela Lansbury.

The Three Musketeers
BBC-miniseries created in 1966.

The Three Musketeers
Movie created in 1973. Starring Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston. Won a Golden Globe.

Anime san jushi
Movie created in 1987. Japanese adaptation of The Three Musketeers! When anime meets 17th century France!

The Three Musketeers
Movie created in 1993. Starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell.

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers
Movie created in 2004. Starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy in their first feature film together.

Videos

Albert the Fifth Musketeer
A French cartoon based on the idea that a fifth Musketeer named Albert is actually performing all the heroic deeds.

Video Game Trailer
Trailer for the video game released in 2006. Can anyone explain to us why Porthos is the central avatar?

Images

Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle
A stylized depiction by Henri Motte.

Alexandre Dumas
The author of the novel.

Other

Online Copy of The Three Musketeers
A free online copy of the book from Google Books.

Quotations by Alexandre Dumas
A collection of famous quotes by Dumas.

Profile of Dumas
A Random House profile of the author, along with a list of his translated works.

Official Dumas Society Website
The official site of the Société des Amis d’Alexandre Dumas. It’s primarily in French, but they do have an English translation.